Mercer Artists: Justis Ward and Matthew Harris, musicians


Image: Jayla Moody

Ward and Harris are now 2 out of 5 members of a band they recently started called Three17, named after bible verse Colossians 3:17. Ward is lead vocalist and acoustic guitar player, Harris is the band’s piano player, his brother Mark Harris plays electric bass guitar, Ear Bush is their electric guitar player, Ehjayson Henry plays the drums.

Jayla Moody, Opinions and Lifestyle Editor

Seniors Justis Ward and Matthew Harris both grew up in the church with musician parents.

“I can’t give a starting point where music became big in my life,” Ward said. “My mom’s a musician so I grew up listening to her.”

Ward’s mother sings contemporary Christian and gospel music, and he grew up attending her different events and performances.

“It was never forced on me. It was just kind of incorporated into my childhood,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harris’ dad has been playing the piano for almost 40 years now.

“Growing up I had two brothers,” Harris said. “My dad taught my oldest brother how to play the drums, my middle brother played the bass guitar and I played the piano.”

They even formed a band in their church growing up.

Ward and Harris are now two out of five members of a band they recently started called Three17, named after Bible verse Colossians 3:17. Ward is lead vocalist and acoustic guitar player. Harris is the band’s piano player. His brother, Mark Harris, plays electric bass guitar. Ear Bush is their electric guitar player, and Ehjayson Henry plays the drums.

“There’s a music label group called 116, and that’s kind of like their mantra,” Ward said. “So for us, we wanted something similar.”

Ward said they were going through some different Bible verses and Christian sayings, and that one just stood out to them.

They first put the band together to perform at The Battle of the Bands hosted at Mercer in October 2016. Since then, they’ve performed at MU Miracle’s Koncert for Kids and gigs downtown. They’re looking forward to performing at Mercer’s Dance Marathon in March.

Both Harris and Ward play at Kingdom Life Church, which started on Mercer’s campus.

“Coming into Mercer, I had pretty big stage fright,” Ward said.

Ward said he loved to write music, but he never really performed it. He didn’t expect that to change much after coming to Mercer.

“I loved singing, and I’d sing for anybody, but the moment I [would] get behind a microphone on stage, something weird would happen,” he said.

Ward said when he first started going to Kingdom Life, they didn’t have a praise and worship leader. One day in Bible study, Justis asked the pastor if he could take that role. He auditioned for the pastor on the spot and got the position. He’s been singing praise and worship every Sunday at Kingdom Life since.

“I think by doing that, I’ve grown to learn that I’m not just singing for me or the audience, but for God first and foremost,” he said. “That keeps the nerves down.”

Ward is a senior biochemistry molecular biology major and a double minor in creative writing and chemistry.

“The game plan is medical school next year,” he said. “But with that being said, music is within my next year as well.”

Ward said he doesn’t know how because medical school will be such a big commitment, but he plans on making sure music stays just as relevant in his life.

Harris, who is a senior industrial engineering major, doesn’t plan on letting go of his music either.

“My dad definitely tells me that I have to get a job,” Harris said. “But I want to keep up with music.”

Harris played at different churches all throughout high school, but suddenly put his playing on hold after graduation.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I came to Mercer and started playing here,” Harris said. “I don’t ever want to be without playing the piano again.”

Harris and Ward said music isn’t their main avenue, but it’s their passion. It’s their common denominator.

“For us, it really is just a love of ours. We enjoy sharing our talent,” Ward said.